Friday, 30 December 2011

Queen Anne

Been reading an inspiring biography of Queen Anne, just lately. Her reign saw the union of Scotland and England to create the United Kingdom and the establishment of the economic basis for both the stability and the excesses of the eigtheenth century. Anne has often been overlooked as a weak monarch - someone of inferior education who could barely spell. Yet her story shows her to be a dutiful and stubborn person of great integrity and amazing firmness when it came to her beliefs and her sense of what was good for her people. She endured 17 pregnancies in the bid to provide an heir and it is utterly remarkable that, despite the demands on her physical well-being, she ruled with attention to detail and moral constistency.

In her day, the Church of England was beset with problems - the Tory party adopted the slogan 'The Church in Danger'. The problem was that the Church, of which she was Governor, was rent in two between 'High' and 'Low' parties. The Toleration Act of 1689 (which granted freedom of worship to all Trinitarian Protestants) had undermined the monopoly position of the Church of England, proving conclusively that there were a great many more Dissenters in the country than had previously been thought. The High Church Party emphasised loyalty to the Stuart line, the sanctity of the priesthood and the importance of ceremonial while the Low Church Party were wedded to more radical Protestant reform and all that that meant in terms of political alliances. Anne's personal sympathies were more in tune with the High Church party, but, like her predecessor, Elizabeth I, she had a great distrust for anything that tended to divide the nation, cause factions or boulster factious clergy. Henry Compton, the bishop of London, had taught her when she was the Lady Anne and had instilled in her a great respect for the doctrines of the Church of England as representing the true catholic faith.

The things that stand out for me in terms of Queen Anne's reign are to do with balance, duty, family, compassion and determination to assert her own views and independence of mind in a world in which she must have felt inferior in terms of her education and gender. I am not aware that anyone has appraised Anne as a feminist activist or politician but I think that she has something valuable to contribute to the 'can women have it all?' debate. She herself would not understand or sympathize with the question. Yet she is, I think, very much a woman who successfully blended personal belief, the call of family, professional or (in her case) constitutional duty and a real compassion for those for whom she had responsibility. I am not sure that she would have used the word 'successful' or indeed that most political commentators would use it. However, a close reading of her life reveals that Queen Anne worked with the personal, political and religious influences of her time to achieve a great deal that was valuable for the good of the nation.

Her chosen belief that the Church of England embodied a true interpretation of Christian tradition was, frankly, amazingly costly. It set her apart from her own, father, James II . Most historians downplay the significance of this; it is deeply costly to espouse beliefs which alienate us from our families, however remote. From an early age Anne showed her own independence of thought by very decidedly and even calaculatingly placing herself on the Protestant side of the national debate. Her Christian faith and understanding were deeply important to her and she adhered to her beliefs consistently and persistently even when under considerable pressure to give way.

Of course, the need to supply a Protestant heir and the power which accrues to a woman who can fulfill this role shaped Anne's life. Much has been written of the political outfall of her 17 pregnanacies. As someone who has, from time to time, been rendered very ill through gynaecological conditions, I marvel at Anne's capacity to undergo the physical and psychological trauma associated with bearing an heir while also coping with the day to day demands of monarchy in a time when the constitution was emerging and modern notions of monarchy taking shape. Were history to be written predominantly by women, I feel that Anne's contribution would be differently assessed.

Queen Anne's reign demonstrated a new departure in terms of compassion. Her reign had the singular distinction of being the first before 1760 during which there were no political executions despite the capture of several Jacobites who might have been executed for treason. She was recorded as having decreed that it would be 'a barbarous thing' to hang a woman when she was with child or to hang a man 'who has to support a wife and six children.'  Anne also shaped much of her life through friendships, notably with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, but also with other prominent women of the day and, in this, she is very like modern women for whom a series of profound if somethimes turbulent friendships may turn out to to be the defining relationships of their lives.

She established Queen Anne's Bounty, a fund formed in 1704 to augment the livings of poor clergy and which was later used to build and repair parsonages. This was a very practical way of shoring up the ministry of the Church of England and in this, she showed her willingness to support in real terms the outworkings of her theological position as regards the church.

So Queen Anne gets my vote as someone who lived out her theological beliefs in very costly and practical ways and who was also ready to tread the difficult path of combining the moral duties which arise from a working (ie. constitutional or professional) life with the psychological and emotional demands of family life. To my way of thinking, she was the first truly modern monarch and a worthy mother of women who try to combine familial, theological and political vocations. To put it in contemporary language, she is an inspiration to women who wrestle with the demands of family, work, social expectation and traditional models of morality for the sake of our faith and our beliefs. She was more radical than ever she would have thought herself to be and she achieved some notable political advances through a balanced and undramatic sense of duty. 

Make your own assessment by reading Edward Gregg's  Queen Anne  Yale University Press 2001          


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Greetings

A Very Happy Christmas to all readers!
Llawen iawn nadolig i'r holl ddarllenwyr!

O God who has made this most hallowed night resplendent with the glory of the true Light, grant that we who have known the mysteries of that Light on earth may enter into the fullness of his joys in Heaven.
Christmas Eve Midnight, Western Rite

Almighty God who has poured upon us the new light of thine Incarnate Word, grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Mass of Christmas at Dawn, Sarum Rite

Thursday, 22 December 2011

St Peter's Harrogate; Fresh Start for Christmas

Many congratulations to St Peter's Harrogate who are now back in their church building ready to celebrate Christmas after a long sojourn at nearby Wesley Chapel while St Peter's was reordered and extended. The £2.3m project will allow St Peter's much more flexibility in extending its town centre ministry, with space to welcome people to over 25 services every week, to its well-known breakfasts, cafe church, civic events and concerts and to much, much more. We look forward to seeing all sorts of new plans take shape over the coming months and years. You can read all about it at

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Prime Minister Praises Biblical Values

So the Prime Minister likes the resonances of the King James bible and believes that values that come from the bible should shape our society! Christians should hold their heads up high, be confident and contribute to public life. David Cameron was speaking at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford as part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James bible.

Well, it was an interesting and perhaps unexpected speech. It was refreshing to hear a senior politician acknowledge the central place that religion has had and still has in shaping the moral landscape we inhabit. Secular neutrality and the pretence that religion can simply be assigned to the private sphere don't measure up - they collude to tell a story about society that is untrue and misleading. Mr Cameron clearly sees crises like the recent riots in London and other cities, the MPs' expenses scandal and the collapse of parts of the banking system as symptomatic of the growing absence of a commonly accepted moral code or any sense of accountability based on coherent moral principles. And he seems inclined to look to the Church of England as well as other faith communities for help to find a set of values which will restore Britain to 'a nation whose ideals are founded on the bible' to quote Margaret Thatcher. He challenged the Church of England to be more vocal and also to be sure that it speaks to and for the whole country (he had a little go at us for our non-inclusivity) and even went as far as to say that 'the values we draw from the bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country.'

What are these values? According to Mr Cameron they include responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self sacrifice, love and pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another and to our families and our communities. In many ways commendable, but not all values I necessarily think come straight from the bible - or at least they don't necessarily pick up on the rich complexity of biblical morality or the priorities we find in scripture. Love, compassion, humility, self sacrifice, yes, but what about care for the marginalised, the call to care for those beyond our families, sometimes even at cost to our families, radical forgiveness of an enemy and prophetic challenge to institutions? These themes take up a large chunk of scripture. And I'm not sure I recognize pride in anything, even working for the common good if you can identify it, as a biblical value. The trouble with Mr Cameron's approach to Christianity or more specifically the bible is that it rather sounds as though he has made up his mind about what he means by proper ethical values and then looked at the biblical text to find support for them. It's a bit fuzzy about the actual content of the bible.

Now don't get me wrong. I am delighted that our Prime Minister took the opportunity to articulate what he personally finds relevant in the Christian tradition.  And perhaps especially delighted that he acknowledged a place for faith perspectives in public debate and in the ordering of the life of our country. But I think his speech showed him falling into the same trap that so many people who say 'we should get back to Christian morals' fall into. 

You can't have Christianity or a biblically shaped view of morality without the content, the commitment and the disciplines of the tradition. I would go so far as to say that I think religion can be quite damaging when we just pick the bits from tradition or scripture that support the beliefs we have anyway or would like to have. Because then we are taking fallible human wisdom and calling it the wisdom of God, investing it with a power that it has no business to have... and we all know where that can get us. People of all faiths know this. Secularists and religious dabblers usually overlook it. 

The hard fact is that the secular agenda has now taken the people of Britain so far from any serious engagement with the Christian tradition that most people really do not know what the content of the Christain faith is or what moral demands and disciplines the scriptures make. And of course these are very complex, can be apparently internally contradictory and are open to diverse interpretations. Perhaps most seriously, many people entirely miss the fact that at the heart of Christianity is a profound relationship with God, not a set of moral imperatives. The moral codes of religion that politicians so much like to talk about really don't work and can become ugly tools unless they arise out of a relationship grounded in worship and a sense of awe about who God is.

Perhaps I can put it like this - you wouldn't join a political party or a sporting or artisitc movement unless you were going to find out what the underlying principles and activites were and practice them until you were familiar with them! At least, if you did , you would probably acknowledge that your membership would not have very much meaning. So-called Christian morality only gives value in society when it is practised in a disciplined way by people of faith. We can  no more wake up one morning and decide to put society right by adopting some parts of 5,000 year old scriptures (written in languages and for a culture that we do not readily understand) than we can put society right by becoming Marxists or Keynesians and not reading Marx or Keynes. Christian morality comes of a steady, profound, lifelong engagement with all that the Christian tradition has to show and teach. It demands willingness to worship and pray, to wrestle with doubt and complexity and to be continually changed by what is grasped. So, while I partially welcome the Prime Minster's speech, I do so with some reservations. If Christianity is going to have an impact on future society in the way he suggests, two things are needed. Firstly, people who are willing to engage with the content of Christian faith rather than simply to use the Christian faith to justify the way we live anyway. (And this takes time and real commitment and immersion in the tradition.) And secondly, a relationship between people of faith and secular society that fosters two-way respect. People of faith must show that they can be trusted, that they try to live according to their beliefs especially concerning love, care for neighbour and forgiveness, and that they have the welfare of those who do not share their faith at heart. Secularists should have a care not to cariacature people of faith but to discover where they have values and ways of working in common with those who live by belief in God and transcendence.    


Big apologies to Kirkby Overblow Dramatic Society! They invited us to their production of Rumours, a farce by Neil Simon, on 3rd December and this is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and write about it. So, 280 Christmas cards and a lot of visiting, caroling and shopping later, I cast my mind back three Saturdays to what was a really entertaining night out. The farce itself was reminiscent of the Brian Rix type farces of my childhood, though with an American flavour rather than a British one, and we laughed a great deal, caught up in the sheer madness of the fast unfolding and ever more ridiculous plot. (The skill of farce is surely that it could just actually happen that way?) The timing of all the actors was good - it needed to be - and although the play was fast moving, as is the way with the best farces, in fact, not as much happened as you might initially think would be the case. A crime that became more of a terrible misunderstanding with consequences for everyone who had been invited to the party would be my take on events. The set was ambitious - a two storey creation by Bruce Noble which stood up well to the constant dashing from one level to another (and, the Vicar tells me, vanished speedily to return the church to a worship space in time for the Christmas services!) The lead part was played by the director Adam McKenzie and we especially enjoyed the performances by Simon Stockill, Alice Sheepshanks and Simon Vale. Vanda McKenzie's eye for detail showed up in her handling of the production; as with other KODS performances I've seen, the set was rather beautifully presented with attention to colour as well as style. 

The performance supported the work of St Michael's Hospice, Harrogate and The Friends of All Saints, Kirkby Overblow.

KODS took part in the Wharfedale Drama Festival for the first time, this year, and came away with no less than four awards - the Richard Whitley shield for the best overall production, The Yorkshire Post trophy for the most outstanding acting by the whole cast, the best actor (to David Zucker) and the best supporting actor (to Simon Stockill). This is no surprise once you have seen the company perform: I would say that one of the outstanding features of KODS is that every member of the cast and production team contributes to the overall quality and there are no very obvious passengers. We look forward to their next production - I'd like to see them tackle Hedda Gabler (Ibsen) or a Checkov play and see what they make of it!          

Hidden Corners at St Gregory's, Bedale

Q. What does an archdeacon's husband do in the hour before the carol service starts?
A. Find an enthuiastic guide to show him round the church!

St Gregory's, Bedale As We All Recognize It

Lesser Known Features of St Gregory's as introduced
 by Hannah Megson

And finally...

The new Rector designate, the Revd Ian Robinson

Ian will be inducted by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds on 19th April 2012 at 7.30pm

Carols at Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward is approached down a long lane leading from the from the village. Driving out to the annual carol service on a dark and frosty evening, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have taken a wrong turn until, suddenly, through the trees - there it is, the lights flickering in the darkness! A dedicated member of the congregation waves a greeting and ushers you into the car parking spaces and there is a truly warm Wensleydale welcome. This church has been here since 1086 (the village, meanwhile, has moved a mile or two away) and today it is still lit by gas lights and candles and the enthusiastic singing accompanied on a foot-pumped harmonium. The site is almost certainly of Saxon origin or even earlier - Thornton Steward features in three of the best maps showing Saxon influence noth Yorkshire as a place of importance.

Decorated for Christmas

The church was beautifully decorated and surprisingly warm and it was three quarters full. We enjoyed a traditional service of lessons and carols followed by mulled wine, mince pies and all sorts of tempting snacks. I could not help but look around and be moved by the fact that the local community has been worshipping like this for so many centuries with little change. Some of the carols we sang could well have been sung two hundred years ago in much the same fashion. As we sang and listened, the story of the incarnation - God's dealings with the world - emerged in time honoured fashion and the sense of joyful anticipation that settles on congregations every year was there among us. Thank you, Thorton Steward, for a wonderful start to the celebration of Christmas! 

The warmth of worship was tangible

John Wesley's instructions for singing (1761)
  • Learn the tunes well.
  • Sing them exactly as they are printed without altering or mending them.
  • Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.
  • Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl so as to be heard distinct above others, that you may not destroy the harmony.
  • Sing in tune. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before it nor stay behind it and take care not to sing too slow.
  • Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature.

What excellent advice which we might follow at our carol services this year! It is amazing how singing heartily and with enjoyment for an hour uplifts the spirit and opens us up to God!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New Beginnings

Spiritual Director - 'Just try getting some crayons out.'
Janet - 'Oh no, I really don't do art.'

It was liberating!! Try something new this Advent!

Ser dros Yr Wyddfa

Ichthyan Odyssey

Maggi Dawn; Advent Frustration

I do so agree with Maggi - I always get tremendously confused when preaching in Advent!

Motivation and Ambition in Business

It is crucial to affirm the positive role of business in God's purposes and to think about the application of Christian faith and values in business' The Revd Dr Richard Higginson

The Diocese of Ripon and Leeds has been undertaking an exercise called 'Ambition for Mission' through which we hope to research and discover more about what makes churches grow and become more effective in their mission, their ability to encourage true discipleship and their ability to get into partnership with community and business organisations in their own locality. My eye was caught by the details of a conference at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, run by the Faith in Business Initiative, which clearly has something to say in this area. The organizers comment that the level of debate about the economic issues underlying the present, perceived national and international financial crisis has been disappointingly low. (This statement is borne out in the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, today, in the Times where he criticises just about everybody from all sides of the debate for over-simplifying the causes of the current financial difficulties.) The aim of the conference is to explore the question of how faith impinges on motivation and ambition. Speakers include

Beverley Shepherd, a mamgement training consultant
Andrew Tunswell, CEO ToughStuff
Graham Codrington, founder TomorrowToday
Jim Wright, consultant Soterio
Harald Holt, chair Noroff AS
Richard Higginson, Director Faith in Business

Topics cover Adventuring with God, Running a Social Enterprise, Motivational Differences, Big Business and the Kingdom of God, Success and Signifiance, Motivation in China.

I have attended some of these Faith in Business conferences myself and the great thing is that I have always come away having met one or two truly inspirational people who have then gone on to affect my life or the life of the churches and organisations I work for in significant ways. I know Cambridge is the deepest south, but it just could be worth the journey...!!!  'A rich diet of inspiring talk and candid sharing lies in store for you. Attending this conference could be a life changing experience.'

If you are in business, are a church or community leader or an entrepreneur, if you care about the ethics behind business and the financial community or the pastoral care of those who work in the financial sector, this could be for you. The conference is at Ridley Hall in Cambridge from 30th March - 1st April (honest!) 2012. Cost £265 or £240 for early bookers.

To book using the secure online system go to

For Art Lovers

The question of what Art speaks to you and inspires you is a very culturally dependent and subjective thing. One of the modern sculptures I like best in any church is Jonathan Clarke's Way of Life in the West tower of Ely Cathedral. It was commissioned about fifteen years ago by the Friends of Ely Cathedral, the Dean and Chapter and the Cambridge-based Theology Through the Arts Project. I don't think I can post an image without infringing copyright, but you can see it at

My eye was caught recently by news of a new £10,000 prize to be awarded by the Jerusalem Trust for the best developed proposal for a new work of art in a church. Could your church be the one to convince the judges that you can capture something unique in a piece of art specially created for your church and enhancing the experience of worshipper, pilgrims and casual visitors who come? The Theology Through the Arts project had a very special way of working in that it brought together small clusters of artists and experts to collaborate closely - an artist, theologian and dancer or a librettist, theologian and musician, for example. I think that this is an extremely successful and illuminating way to promote the kind of creativity that expresses deep truth.

The poster above gives the the information you will need about the competition and may I invite you to think further and certainly to contact Diana Coulter at the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division  if you are interested in knowing more? Go on, have a go! You can also read about the things you need to consider in commissioning a new work of art in this publication  

Published by the Archbishops' Council
Cathedral and Church Buildings Division